3 min

DMS not in trouble: members

'We're not archaic. We're not dead,' Lobsinger says

Despite tension at the Dogwood Monarchist Society's AGM last month, incoming Emperor Marty Mojo Stevens and Empress Raye Sunshine will head a healthy organization, members say. Credit: Rosamond Norbury
Members of the Dogwood Monarchist Society (DMS) say the non-profit organization is healthier than ever, having just made its largest community donations in two decades.
“We’ve faced a lot of challenges every year,” says Dean of the College of Monarchs Steve Lobsinger, Emperor XXXIII. “We’re really trying hard to keep this organization moving forward.
“We’re not archaic. We’re not dead,” he says. “We’d like it to be a viable and important part of the community.”
The assertions come following a raucous April 11 annual general meeting at which members appeared divided on a number of issues. The meeting was adjourned early due to insufficient notice provided. It is set to resume on May 16.
Times have changed since the society was formed almost 40 years ago, says Lobsinger, who was one of six members of the DMS’s College of Monarchs to meet with Xtra on May 2.
Dealing with change can result in disputes, the monarchs say, but the DMS’s goal of fostering community remains the same.
“We all donate our time for the betterment of the community, to make sure it stays strong and safe,” says Empress XXXV Jaylene Tyme.
The DMS emerged in the 1970s when gay spaces were still rare and drag parties essential, says Empress XXVIII Joan-E.
Until the 1980s, the drag court was primarily a social organization. Then AIDS hit.
The group began to shift its attention to include community work and especially fundraising. Since then, says Emperor XXXV Mike Murrell, the society has given away almost half a million dollars.
“Drag queens do more volunteer work than the average member of the community,” Joan-E says.
Last year’s DMS donations included $850 to Friends for Life Society; $5,749 to Qmunity for the Generations Project; $6,534 to Out in Schools and $5,749 to Health Initiative for Men. Out in Schools will also receive $784 raised during Matthew Shepard Month.
“It’s the biggest [donations] in the last 10 years,” Joan-E says.
The society’s 2009 revenues of $39,553 include $20,107 listed as donations in the reign of Empress Iona Whipp and Emperor XXXV Mike Murrell.
The cost of this year’s coronation was $15,498 on revenues of $18,898. Joan-E says that money covered everything to do with the hotel, advertising, sets and DJs.
The days when the Commodore Ballroom could be rented for a dollar are long gone, the monarchs note. 
Whipp and Murrell each travelled on the society’s tab (just airfare and hotel) last year to one Canadian drag-court ball, as per the society’s bylaws. They travelled to other functions at their own expense.
In the case of Murrell, says Lobsinger, the emperor dipped into his own pocket for about $80,000.
Lobsinger and Joan-E say they each spent about $20,000 of their own money during their reigns.Like circuit parties, they say, the coronation brings in personalities. In 2009, the DMS brought in Empress Nicole the Great, Queen Mother of the Americas from San Diego, California, and put her up at a hotel. Those costs were borne by the DMS in accordance with the protocols of the International Court System.
But, says Lobsinger, “that spikes our coronation ticket sales when we bring them in.”
It’s the same as Pride bringing in Harvey Milk colleague Cleve Jones as 2009 Pride grand marshal, Joan-E says.
The coronation ball is an integral part of the DMS and its fundraising activities, she says. “The ball is to us and the court system as the Pride parade is to the Pride society. For us not to have it is a ridiculous notion — as ridiculous to us as the thought of Pride not having its parade.
“It is a signature event of the community.”
Between donations received, coronation costs, advertising, the DMS’s Pride entry fee and other outlays, the society has an operating budget of about $3,000. And that, says Joan-E “is probably on the low end” compared to other non-profit groups.
“Nobody profits at the DMS,” says Lobsinger. “Every expense is questioned.”
They decry suggestions that members might be using the money for “treats” or drinks. If any drag court members get drinks at a bar, they say, it’s due to the graciousness of the club and nothing else.
The DMS’s finances are transparent, and any members who have questions are welcome to see the receipts, Lobsinger says.
The DMS was criticized by founder ted northe at its AGM for not respecting its past, something the College of Monarchs says it is trying to do while adjusting to changing times.
Despite repeated attempts, northe could not be reached for comment.
The gay community may change, says Joan-E, but the drag court will continue to support its needs and causes.

“It’s always to us that they come running,” she says. “The drag queens and their friends will dust off their heels… and will always be there in any way they can.”